- Prevailing view of anthropologists and other scholars was that culture generally develops (or evolves) in a uniform and progressive manner
- The Evolutionists, building upon the success of Darwin’s theory of evolution, but not drawing much inspiration from his central contribution of the concept of natural selection, sought to track the development of culture through time.
- Just as species were thought to evolve into increasing complex forms, so too were cultures thought to progress from simple to complex states.
- Montesquieu, who proposed an evolutionary scheme consisting of three stages: hunting or savagery, herding or barbarism, and civilization. This tripartite division became very popular among the 19th century social theorists, with figures such as Tylor and Morgan adopting one or another version of this scheme.
- Cultural evolution – anthropology’s first systematic ethnological theory – was intended to help explain this diversity among the peoples of the world.
- evolutionary stages ranging from primitive to civilized was fundamental to the new ideas of the nineteenth century social evolutionists
- most of the early evolutionary schemes were unilineal.
- Unilineal evolution refers to the idea that there is a set sequence of stages that all groups will pass through at some point, although the pace of progress through these stages will vary greatly.
Edward B. Tylor
- He believed that peoples in different locations were equally capable of developing and progressing through the stages.
- culture evolved from the simple to the complex, and that all societies passed through the three basic stages of development suggested by Montesquieu: from savagery through barbarism to civilization. “Progress,” therefore, was possible for all.
- To account for cultural variation, Tylor and other early evolutionists postulated that different contemporary societies were at different stages of evolution
- In more advanced societies one could see proof of cultural evolution through the presence of what Tylor called - survivals - traces of earlier customs that survive in present-day cultures
- Tylor believed that there was a kind of psychic unity among all peoples that explained parallel evolutionary sequences in different cultural traditions
- because of the basic similarities in the mental framework of all peoples, different societies often find the same solutions to the same problems independently
Lewis Henry Morgan
book - Ancient Society
- Morgan divided the evolution of human culture into the same three basic stages Tylor had suggested (savagery, barbarism, and civilization). But he also subdivided savagery and barbarism into upper, middle, and lower segments.
- Morgan distinguished these stages of development in terms of technological achievement, and thus each had its identifying benchmarks
- Middle savagery was marked by the acquisition of a fish diet and the discovery of fire;
- upper savagery by the bow and arrow;
- lower barbarism by pottery; middle barbarism by animal domestication and irrigated agriculture;
- upper barbarism by the manufacture of iron; and
- Civilization by the phonetic alphabet
- For Morgan, the cultural features distinguishing these various stages arose from a “few primary germs of thought”- germs that had emerged while humans were still savages and that later developed into the “principle institutions of mankind.”
- family evolved through six stages -
- society began as a “horde living in promiscuity,” with no sexual prohibitions and no real family structure.
- In the next stage a group of brothers was married to a group of sisters and brother-sister mating was permitted.
- In the third stage, group marriage was practiced, but brothers and sisters were not allowed to mate.
- The fourth stage, which supposedly evolved during barbarism, was characterized by a loosely paired male and female who lived with other people.
- In the next stage husband-dominant families arose in which the husband could have more than one wife simultaneously.
- Finally, the stage of civilization was distinguished by the monogamous family, with just one wife and one husband who were relatively equal in status
- He blieved - family units became progressively smaller and more self- contained as human society developed. His postulated sequence for the evolution of the family, however, is not supported by the enormous amount of ethnographic data.
Sir James Frazer
- He focused on the evolution of religion and viewed the progress of society or culture from the viewpoint of the evolution of psychological or mental systems
Points Of Reaction
- Social evolutionism, offered an alternative to the contemporary Christian/theological approach to understanding cultural diversity
- social evolutionism offered a naturalist approach to understanding sociocultural variation within our species.
- Karl Marx and his collaborator, Friedrich Engels, devised a theory in which the institutions of monogamy, private property, and the state were assumed to be chiefly responsible for the exploitation of the working classes in modern industrialized societies.
- Marx and Engels extended Morgan’s evolutionary scheme to include a future stage of cultural evolution in which monogamy, private property, and the state would cease to exist and the “communism” of primitive society would re-emerge albeit in a transformed state.
- The beginning of the twentieth century brought the end of evolutionism’s initial reign in cultural anthropology. Its leading opponent was Franz Boas
- whose main disagreement with the evolutionists involved their assumption that universal laws governed all human culture.
- Boas argued that these nineteenth-century individuals lacked sufficient data (as did Boas himself) to formulate many useful generalizations.
- historicism and, later, functionalism were reactions to nineteenth century social evolutionism
Johann Jacob Bachofen
- developed a theory of the evolution of kinship systems
- primitive promiscuity was first characterized by matriarchy and later by patrilineality. (Morgan concurred)
Sir James George Frazer
(1854 – 1873)
- Frazer was an encyclopedic collector of data (although he never did any fieldwork himself)
- In his work - The Golden Bough - Frazer summed up this study of magic and religion by stating that “magic came first in men’s minds, then religion, then science, each giving way slowly and incompletely to the other”
- Frazer’s ideas from The Golden Bough were widely accepted.
Sir John Lubbock
- staunch pupil of Darwin
- He coined the terms ‘Paleolithic’ and ‘Neolithic’
- advanced a gradual scheme for the evolution of religion, summarized in terms of five stages: atheism, nature worship (totemism), shamanism, idolatry, and monotheism
Sir Henry James Sumner Maine
- Maine argued that the most primitive societies were patriarchal
- he was not a proponent of unilinear evolution
John F. McLellan
- His argument began with primitive peoples practicing female infanticide because women did not hunt to support the group. The shortage of women that followed was resolved by the practice of bride capture and fraternal polyandry. These then gave rise to patrilineal descent.
- McLellan, in his Primitive Marriage, coined the terms ‘exogamy’ and ‘endogamy’.
Lewis Henry Morgan
(1818 – 1881)
Father of American anthropology
- Adopting Montesquieu’s categories of savagery, barbarism, and civilization, Morgan subdivided the first two categories into three sub-stages (lower, middle, and upper) and gave contemporary ethnographic examples of each stage.
- Importantly, each stage was characterized by a technological innovation that led to advances in subsistence patterns, family and marriage arrangements and political organization.
Sir Edward Burnett Tylor
(1832 – 1917)
book - Primitive Culture
- Definition of culture: “Culture or civilization is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”
- He also elaborated the concept of cultural “survivals.”
- His major contributions were in the field of religion and mythology, and he cited magic, astrology, and witchcraft as clues to primitive religion.
- Frazer, James George 1890 [1959 - The New Golden Bough
- Lubbock, John 1872 - Prehistoric Times: As Illustrated by Ancient Remains and the Manners and Customs of Modern Savages
- Maine, Henry 1861 - Ancient Law
- McLellan, John 1865 - Primitive Marriage
- Morgan, Lewis Henry 1876 - Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family
- Morgan, Lewis Henry 1877 - Ancient Society or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress rom Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization
- Tylor, Edward B 1871  - Primitive Culture
- unilinear social evolution – the notion that culture generally develops (or evolves) in a uniform and progressive manner. It was thought that most societies pass through the same series of stages, to arrive ultimately at a common end
- psychic unity of mankind – the belief that the human mind was everywhere essentially similar.
- survivals – traces of earlier customs that survive in present-day cultures.
- primitive promiscuity – the theory that the original state of human society was characterized by the lack of incest taboos and other rules regarding sexual relations or marriage.
- stages of development – favored by early theorists whoembraced a tripartite scheme of social evolution from savagery to barbarianism to civilization
- The Comparative Method - zoological and botanical knowledge of extant organisms was routinely applied to the interpretation of the structure and function of extinct fossil forms
- first efforts to establish a scientific discipline of anthropology
- this effort was greatly hampered by the climate of supernatural explanations, a paucity of reliable empirical materials, and their engagement in “armchair speculation”.
- three basic assumptions which have become an integral part of anthropological thought and research methodology -
- cultural phenomena are to be studied in naturalistic fashion
- premise of the “psychic unity of mankind
- use of the comparative method
- no recent society that Morgan would call savage indulges in group marriage or allows brother-sister mating
- a most damning criticism of this early social evolutionary approach is that as more data became available, the proposed sequences did not reflected the observations of professionally trained fieldworkers
- if a similar belief or custom could be found in different cultures in many parts of the world, then it was considered to be a valid clue for reconstructing the history of the development, spread, and contact among different human societies.
- The evolutionism of Tylor, Morgan, and others of the nineteenth century is rejected today largely because their theories cannot satisfactorily account for cultural variation
- why some societies have regressed or even become extinct. Also, although other societies may have progressed to “civilization,” some of them have not passed through all the stages
- most common criticisms leveled at the nineteenth century evolutionists is that they were highly ethnocentric – they assumed that Victorian England, or its equivalent, represented the highest level of development for mankind.
- unilineal evolutionary schemes fell into disfavor in the 20th century, partly as a result of the constant controversy between evolutionist and diffusionist theories